Today, DNA evidence is often used to identify suspects in a wide range of crimes, including rape and sexual assault. In the 1970s, one Baltimore forensic pathologist at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center (GBMC) began collecting what’s now considered DNA evidence during physical examinations of victims of these offenses and preserving it on slides.
These exams are now known as Sexual Assault Forensic Exams (SAFE), and the evidence collected during them is included in what’s known as a SAFE kit. These are more widely referred to as “rape kits.” They’ve been used since the 1990s.
Maryland law used to require that these kits be saved for 20 years. Now, with a new Maryland law that took effect at the beginning of October, they must be saved for 75 years. Further, it requires that any evidence preserved on slides in the pre-SAFE kit days and still around be submitted by a law enforcement agency for DNA testing.
Evidence collected prior to DNA profiling will be analyzed
This early pre-DNA-testing evidence has already been used in cases like one involving an alleged serial rapist that dates back to 1978. However, transferring, cataloging and testing all of this evidence will take money, time and manpower. It’s not certain how many of these slides are still in at GBMC, where they’re stored as medical records.
As one law enforcement official says, “It’s an administratively heavy task but it…has to be 100 percent accurate for these to stand up through prosecution.” This is a unique situation because of this one doctor’s work decades ago. The official adds, “Nobody across the country had dealt with anything like this.
Maryland has no statute of limitations on rape. That means it’s possible that people will find themselves charged with an offense that allegedly occurred decades ago.
If you’re facing charges based on any kind of forensic evidence, remember that a lot of things can go wrong throughout the process of collecting, transferring, analyzing and drawing conclusions based on it. Getting experienced legal guidance to protect your rights is a critical first step.